The Other Side of Emotional Eating

Over the weekend our dieter, Kathleen, received some very good news: her son announced his engagement to his long-time girlfriend.  Kathleen was overjoyed at the news and after their conversation, she felt keyed up.  Although the emotions she was experiencing were joyous, the sensation of experiencing even a strong positive emotion was vaguely uncomfortable – and wouldn’t have been much different than if she was actually experiencing negative emotion. 

Kathleen’s old habits kicked back in to deal with this feeling of emotional arousal. Soon she gave into sabotaging thoughts and “found” herself standing at her kitchen counter, eating a peanut butter sandwich.  As soon as she finished the sandwich, Kathleen realized that she had barely tasted it and was upset that she went off her plan.  The problem with Kathleen’s situation was that she was caught off guard.  Kathleen had often practiced feeling negative emotions and not turning to food, but she hadn’t even thought that positive emotions might lead to the same outcome.

We discussed the situation with Kathleen in the same way we discuss any incident of emotional eating.  Looking back at the situation, Kathleen realized that she should have dealt with her emotional arousal in the same way she always does – by distracting herself with activities, such as walking her dog, taking a hot bath, or polishing her nails.  Kathleen now feels confident that she can deal with any strong emotion without turning to food.